Raised eyebrows, a confused look, lots of questions, that’s the usual response I get when I tell people my job is a ghostwriter.
To date, I have written memoirs for most genres, from the first hand account of a coal miner’s wife who picketed alongside her husband in the 1980’s to TV celebrities, to one of the bravest whistle-blowers in sport. The age range of my authors is from 27 to 86- years- old and their stories all have one thing in common- they are extraordinary.
‘Sounds exciting,’ people tell me, and sometimes this is spot on. I have been privy to the lives of the rich and famous, confidante to incredible characters and always feel honoured to be allowed into a person’s life, at times, no holds barred. But ghosting is much more than just transcribing a person’s thoughts onto a page. It’s communicating the voice of a person while finding the essence of their story. The biggest compliment I’ve had is when family or friends of the author tell me it sounds ‘just like them’ in real life.
Any writing is hard work and ghosting is no exception. Hours upon hours are spent alone typing, trying to organise thoughts to make sense. At times it seems like a never-ending complicated jigsaw and at other moments words flow like a river. But if I make the author laugh or cry at their own memories I know I’ve hit the jackpot.
Firstly a ghostwriter needs to get to know their subject. Each book involves approximately 30 hours of interviews. I prefer to call them ‘chats’ with my clients. If you’re faced with a notebook and pen it’s easy to clam up and struggle to remember, so keeping it easy-going, friendly, and even fun is the best recipe for good memories to emerge. This must be my favourite part of the job. I learned the craft of a good interview being a journalist for a decade before ghosting my first book. I’ve worked at local and national newspapers and magazines, and have spoken to people from every walk of life. No story is ever linear and often neither the ghost nor the author will know exactly where the story is going until they start talking. That’s the exciting part.
Next interviews are transcribed and the writing begins in earnest. I aim to type 1000 and 5000 words a day, just to get words down. There is nothing more frightening than a bare page. Once the skeleton first draft is ready editing can begin. With a reader always in mind making the text punchy, exciting and a page turner remains the aim alongside capturing the unique voice of the client. Sometimes clients want to read the work chapter by chapter, other times they want to wait until the book is finished. Pressing send on a draft is always nerve wracking for any ghost. Thankfully it’s been a rarity for my clients not to love the work in progress.
We can work together then to iron out the memories, cadence, decide what’s important and what isn’t. A good ghost needs to be a good editor too. Able to sift through the stories, panning for gold, knowing what a reader will love or what the author is really trying to convey and when.
Finally the draft is polished, changed, additions made, text cut. Then when your client is happy with it the book is let go of completely. The text you have grown to know so well is sent off into world with your proud author’s name on its cover.
Being a ghostwriter means leaving your ego at the door, but I always remember these are not my stories to tell. They start with the author and end with the author. Without the client there is no book. Hearing stories is what I love, being allowed to tell them is a privilege.